The temptation to stay in New York must have been huge.
Pep Guardiola had won 14 trophies in four seasons at Barcelona, so what could he do next after his Manhattan sabbatical? How about taking charge of a Bayern Munich side who had won the treble of Champions League, Bundesliga and German Cup?
Why not. A man can get sick of Central Park, Broadway and all that culture and energy. The most successful Barcelona coach in history could have laid down his career in Catalonia for posterity, like JD Salinger with The Catcher In The Rye, and never entered another dug-out.
Barcelona’s perfect Champions League victory over Manchester United at Wembley could have been his masterpiece, his guarantee of immortality.
In this ordeal of a European fixture for Manchester City, Guardiola showed why Bavaria was such an appealing next stop. Within an hour they were 3-0 up and had destroyed Joe Hart, the England goalkeeper, beating him twice inside his near post and dribbling the ball round him for their second goal, through Thomas Müller.
For City it was a crushing night that made a mockery of their project to conquer European football with Middle-Eastern wealth.
In the first half especially, Bayern achieved a level of domination not seen in this stadium since, er, City did the same to Manchester United a couple of weekends ago. With their orchestral midfield passing, and phantom striker Müller, Bayern swept away the fear that last season was their zenith, from which the only way was down.
Guardiola’s challenge to himself, plainly, was to improve the apparently unimprovable, and City were obliging hosts. They burnished the Guardiola legend with a goalkeeping error by Joe Hart on seven minutes, and then spectated helplessly as Bayern’s midfielders swept across the park.
By the interval, City’s fans had passed through all the stages of disappointment to arrive at a state of shock.
If anyone thought Guardiola’s decision to start without a conventional centre-forward pointed to timidity, they were soon disabused by Franck Ribéry’s fizzing drive, which flew through Hart’s outstretched gloves, and by the fluid passing of Arjen Robben, Toni Kroos and Philipp Lahm, reinvented by Guardiola as a holding midfielder.
More tactical innovations will doubtless follow, but on this evidence Guardiola has settled for making Bayern play faster, and advance from midfield en bloc, so their opponents are smothered by an oncoming swarm of skilful passers. “I think we dominated the game, dominated possession; we were very good at regaining possession and switching the play,” he said.
Certainly City panicked. The early Ribéry goal conveyed its intended message. This was going to be a horrible night against Europe’s cham¬pions, whose charismatic leader had never lost a game against Manuel ¬Pellegrini in the four years Guardiola was at the helm in Barcelona, from 2008 to 2012.
Pellegrini, who managed Real Madrid, Málaga and Villarreal in that time, achieved no better than a draw.
However entertaining Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s autobiography, we can have no truck with his swipe at Guardiola: “He sacrificed me for Messi and didn’t have the guts to tell me. He’s a fantastic coach, but he’s a coward. He’s not a man.” This egocentric piffle is not to be taken seriously.
No easy job
Bayern Munich was not the easiest job Guardiola could have taken. In many ways it was the hardest, because the trophy count could not be improved. And the myth that Bayern are a haven of political calm and unity has been exposed by criticism of Guardiola’s team by Matthias -Sammer, the club’s sporting director, who called them “emotionless”.
No Bayern coach is invulnerable. Guardiola’s mystique was soon exposed to the same searching tests that always apply at Germanys biggest club.
“Last season Bayern won everything, but they already had thousands of trophies in their cabinet, so one more or one less doesn’t make too much difference,” he said on the eve of this match. He is not about to set silly targets. He has already heard the Bayern hierarchy rattle their jewellery from the galleries and will be a lot wiser now about how the club works and what it expects.
The physical contrast with Pellegrini was striking. When things are going badly, City’s manager — with his hands thrust in the pockets of his trusty business suit — can look like an accountant who has just been told his BMW is not quite ready to drive away after a service. His displeasure seldom swells to anger. But he is plainly irritated by City’s lurches of form.
Superb against United, they were poor at Aston Villa and froze here.
Utterly at home
Guardiola, a refugee from a Hugo Boss campaign, might have been in the other dug-out. Pellegrini was Plan B at best after Guardiola leapt at the chance to go to Bayern. But we get too hung up on management and personalities.
What we saw here was a gloriously mature Bayern side — the champions of Europe — against a City team who seem to pick and choose when to turn it on, and who have laboured in European competitions, despite sporting a squad packed with seasoned internationals.